Zukunftskolleg Lecture with Rector Ulrich Rüdiger

by Sigrid Elmer

 How will data storage of the next generation look like? Can single atoms store information? And is there an atomic limit? – Questions that Ulrich Rüdiger, physicist and Rector of the University of Konstanz, addressed in his presentation.

The origin of magnetic data storage goes back to 1888 when the first tape drive was invented. IBM´s Random Access Method of Accounting and Control (=RAMAC) was the first magnetic hard disk drive. In 1958 IBM announced its IBM 305 RAMAC – the first commercial computer that used a moving-head hard disk drive (magnetic disk storage). Also the compact cassette goes back to 1960.

What has happened since then? “Downscaling, downscaling, downscaling”, says Ulrich Rüdiger. Only downscaling was necessary to develop modern technologies. “The continuous further development of magnetic data storage and the transistor design has shaped information technology over the past 60 years and thus paved the way for its application in day-to-day processes. The efficiency of the underlying components or concepts has nearly doubled every two years due to consequent miniaturisation.” This corresponds to “Moore's law” from 1965 - named after Gordon E. Moore, co-founder of the Intel Corporation ; it says that over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors, which are the centerpiece of all microprocessors, in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. 

But according to Ulrich Rüdiger further downscaling will be stretched to the physical limits of the established technologies in a few years' time. This means that only the introduction of fundamentally new physical approaches for the realisation of data storage and processing will allow further miniaturisation.

Ulrich Rüdiger conducted an experiment to show that data storage and processing basically is also possible on an atomic level. For that he generated atomic-resolution images of the graphite surface. The manipulation of individual atoms on crystal surfaces with atomic resolution requires very low temperatures (-270 degrees Celsius) and ultrahigh vacuum (ca. 10-10 mbar). Atomic resolution bases on the exponential decay of the tunnelling current on the tip sample distance. 

Nevertheless, he concluded his talk, by stating that the cost and technology barrier of atomic scale computer devices may be higher than the physical limits of the established technologies.

Finally Giovanni Galizia honored Ulrich Rüdiger with the Zukunftskolleg Lecture Certificate and presented the new plaque that contains the names of all previous Zukunftskolleg Lecture Award holders - including Ulrich Rüdiger.


Susan M. Gaines Combines Fiction and Science

by Sigrid Elmer

“You can take the girl out of the lab, but you can’t take the lab out of the girl”. With these words Julia Boll introduced Susan M. Gaines, whom she invited to a reading at the Zukunftskolleg.

Susan M. Gaines is novelist, writer-in-residence and Co-Director of “Fiction Meets Science (FMS)” at the University of Bremen. FMS is an initiative that investigates the “world of science under the literary microscope”. Susan M. Gaines did graduate work in organic chemistry at Scripps Institution of Oceanography before abandoning the laboratory for literary pursuits. 

Gaines illustrated how she and other contemporary novelists explore worlds of knowledge before she entertained the audience with two very different novels: “Carbon Dreams” (2001) and “The Last Naturalist and the Terrorists’ Daughter” (a work-in-progress). The only thing that both books have in common is that they are about human relationships and nature, and the consequences of human action on a personal level, she explained.

“Carbon Dreams” is the story of a geochemist that gets sucked into the nascent global warming debate in the early 1980s and must come to terms with her conflicting responsibilities to science and society, even as she juggles the demands of vocation, career, and love.

“The Last Naturalist and the Terrorists’ Daughter” is about the young bird-lover Gabe who follows his mother from California back to her native Uruguay at the turn of the millennium. He becomes enamored of the marshes on his family´s land and of a local microbiologist who is studying them. But as his sense of the world and of his own future begins to expand, he finds himself and his lover trapped in a history that he had known nothing about.

At the end of her reading the novelist was asked if she doesn´t have to deal with clashes between telling a story and explaining the science, and how she handles both. She pointed out: “The story comes first and then I try to explain the science. Science has to be plausible, but can be fictional.” Or, as The Press Democrat summed it up: “No contemporary novelist I know of makes science sexier.”

More information: www.fictionmeetsscience.org


Scientific Retreat in Kloster Hegne, November 14-16, 2014

by Sigrid Elmer

Discussions, presentations and future collaborations – The three days in Hegne were mainly dedicated to these three activities. And the results were quite productive.

On Friday afternoon the Fellows started with a discussion of the question: Should we, or could we use the unique feature of the Zukunftskolleg, namely its interdisciplinarity, to gain a better position within the university and to benefit our work and our CVs? María Cruz Berrocal argued: “Interdisciplinarity is the most obvious feature of the Zukunftskolleg, since the departments are designed as nodes of attraction and not necessarily as platforms to channel resources outside through collaboration with other departments. There are also no specific tools they can use in order to foster these collaborations.” A debate ensued concerning whether the Fellows could create these tools and platforms to promote the existing trend of interdisciplinary collaboration and enhance it meaningfully. Concrete ideas resulting from this discussion were pursued in working groups on Sunday.

Dating, Singing and Presenting

The best way to start new collaborations among Fellows was fostered not only by a research speed dating event held on Friday evening, in which two Fellows “dated” and talked for a few minutes about their projects before rotating to the next “date,” but also by poster sessions on Saturday. In addition, ZuKo members demonstrated their scientific and musical talents in guitar and singing sessions on Friday and Saturday nights!

On Saturday, some Fellows had the opportunity to present their research in detail: Philosopher Francesca Biagioli talked about the “Mathematical and Transcendental Method in Ernst Cassirer's Philosophy of Science. ” The presentation addressed the problem of formulating necessary and universally valid principles of knowledge after theory change. She reconsidered Cassirer's argument for continuity across theory change for the use of the mathematical method in defining physical objects.

Archaeologist Barbara Hausmair explained “Object biographies and the Archaeology of National Socialist Concentration Camps.” She discussed how studying objects stemming from NS concentration camps – looking at their material properties, traces of use, the contexts in which they occur and connecting them with other historical sources, e.g. the memoires of survivors – offers the possibility of gaining further insights into the prisoners’ struggle for survival, everyday life and changing conditions in the camps.

Mathematician Pantelis Eleftheriou explored the sentence “I am lying” from a philosophic-mathematical perspective. He stated that the liar sentence “I am lying” is so contradictory in its nature that merely stating it violates Aristotle's principle of two-valued logic. Gödel coded the liar sentence within the language of arithmetic in order to produce a sentence that cannot be evaluated within the formal system of arithmetic, thus refuting Hilbert's dream of axiomatizing the whole of arithmetic. Two by-products of Gödel's work are the notion of a computable function, which has developed into our computers today and, more generally, that of definability, which has since then yielded powerful applications whenever studied in different mathematical settings. Tame geometry is the study of definability in neat geometric languages, and it is the sort of geometry Pantelis Eleftheriou considers in his research work. The talk finished with the intriguing question of whether the liar sentence can be formalized, and if definability can be studied, within other disciplines.

After that, three biological presentations followed: Claudius Kratochwil reported on “The evolution of color diversity” in cichlid fish, Michael Pester explained why studying microbial ecology is so important and Andreas Thum illustrated how a brain works on the basis of Drosophila larvae.

Working in Groups and Designing Futures

Sunday was dedicated to working groups. One group collected core topics for collaborative projects in the context of Future/Diverse Futures, such as “Science & Society,” “Predictability & Risk,” “Life & Nature,” “Knowledge & Communication” and “Sustainability”. Another group worked on “Methods, Toolbox, Using Data” and will draft a questionnaire in which Fellows describe the tools they use in order to start building a database. A Methodological Toolbox of the Zukunftskolleg would be a great ultimate goal. Some Fellows talked about links to the departments, teaching, and the visibility of the Zukunftskolleg within the university, and how these issues could be improved. The fourth working group prepared the DAAD Alumni Scientific Retreat 2015 entitled “International Careers. International Lives,” which will be held on July 23-26, 2015, in Kloster Hegne.

At the end, all four working groups presented their results to the reassembled group, before all participants went out to enjoy the Sunday afternoon sun.